Painting the Land
Britain's Industrial Revolution created gritty urban centers by the late eighteenth century. Nostalgia for the countryside and an increasing appreciation for nature gave rise to the "Picturesque" aesthetic, a term derived from the Italian word pitteresco ("in the manner of a painter"). The Picturesque emphasized the beauty of nature and the innate, emotional experience it inspired.
Scenic tours became popular among the leisured class and influenced many to create naturalistic landscapes at their properties. In landscape design, the Picturesque featured informal, asymmetrical plans and local vegetation.
Faced with its own Industrial Revolution and a disappearing frontier, the United States looked to Britain for models of landscape design. Landscape architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted were proponents of the Picturesque Style and used it for large-scale projects like New York City's Central Park, influencing park designers nationwide.
A "Delightful Picture of Rural Peace"
In the nineteenth century, more Americans lived in cities than ever before. Many believed that social ills were caused when people were cut off from nature, but only those with the resources to travel could enjoy natural settings outside of urban areas. City parks were established
to remedy this problem by bringing nature into the city.
The Picturesque Comes to Saint Paul
As the nineteenth century progressed, an increasing number of people moved from rural areas to the city for economic reasons. Landscape architect Horace W. S. Cleveland believed that it was his duty to reunite them with nature through urban park design. Like Olmsted, Cleveland's work advocated designs that would preserve natural landscapes for future generations to enjoy.
In 1887, the Saint Paul Board of Park Commissioners hired Cleveland to create a landscape plan for Como Park. Influenced by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horace Cleveland's plan for Como Park preserved and enhanced existing features with curvilinear paths, naturalistic planting arrangements, and numerous trees. He envisioned an oasis of nature where city dwellers could escape from the unhealthy stresses of urban life. Although the entire plan was not immediately carried out, his grand vision became the foundation for the park's design.
Caption: In landscape and art, the Picturesque represented ideal, pastoral landscapes far from city life, as in this Théodore Rousseau painting owned by James J. Hill.
Quote: "It is for those who have no country seats, and who take no vacations, and for their children, that this delightful picture of rural peace stands ready to furnish rest and healing, both to the mind and body." —Charles Sprague Sargent, American botanist, "The Proper Use of Public Parks"
Caption: Como Park provided an escape from tenements such as this one in Saint Paul, depicted in 1906.
Caption: The park attracted artists such as this musical group playing on the shore of Lake Como around 1895.
Quote: "In the rural loveliness of its natural landscape, with its hills and dales, groves and meadows, and its charming lake nestling in the encircling tree-clad hills, [Como Park] has few peers among the parks of America." —Henry Castle, A History of Saint Paul and Vicinity (1912)